Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Coaching tips for the “leadership sauce” of in-house counsel

How is it that some in-house counsel have strong relationships with their corporate clients, peers, and bosses, while others don’t? Why do opportunities seem to come faster for some counsel than for others with similar talents? Is there a “secret sauce” for success?

Every in-house role requires a combination of technical and personal skills (think of these as ingredients). These ingredients - properly measured and mixed - comprise a "leadership sauce" that varies by counsel (you), and by your company, boss, team, and client constituents (because they’re all different, too). If your leadership sauce is a little off, commit yourself to improving your personal competencies and adapting them to every new situation.

As you think about how to improve the ingredients that make up your skill set (or those of a direct report), have a little fun working through the recipe below:
  • Shore up the base. The base is your knowledge of how to be a lawyer. Whether you’re new or highly seasoned, all good lawyers should know how to research, read cases, and write. If your base is weak, work on this first.
  • Simmer your subject-matter expertise. People in an organization tend to trust in-house counsel for their in-depth knowledge in one or more fields of law. Over time, counsel become more knowledgeable technically, and the sauce thickens.
  • Spice it up (personal competencies). Your personal competencies are the spices of your leadership sauce. Noted leadership consultant Daniel Goleman says that "interpersonal skills" or "social intelligence — are the secret sauce in top-performing leadership." The Must-Have Leadership Skill (HBR.org Oct. 2011). Last year, a not-so-secret list of seven leadership attributes caught my eye: (1) integrity, (2) empathy, (3) emotional intelligence (social intelligence), (4) vision, (5) judgment, (6) courage, and (7) passion. See 7 essential attributes of leaders. To this list, my readers added: (8) patience, (9) common sense, (10) discipline, (11) presence of mind, (12) resourcefulness, (13) natural authority, (14) sense of humor, (15) creativity, (16) humility, (17) flexibility, and (18) tolerance. See 7 essential attributes of leaders - revisited. The list is seemingly endless. Which spices do you need to add to or strengthen in your leadership sauce?
  • Add slowly. Once you determine where improvements (spices) are needed, don't try to do everything at once. Limit your current plan to no more than, say, three changes. Or limit it to one at a time. As Morten T. Hansen writes:
“Embrace the power of one. ... When you have 20 priorities, you have none. Research on multi-tasking reveals that we're not good at it. Focus on one behavior to change at a time. Sequence the change of more than one behavior.” Ten Ways to Get People to Change (HBR.org Sept. 2012).
  • Prioritize weaknesses, not strengths. Work on your weaknesses, and avoid the temptation to focus on strengths (even though they're easier to improve). As Tony Schwartz writes:
"The problem is that ignoring our weaknesses doesn't make them go away, nor negate the toll they take on our effectiveness. Instead, narrowing attention to the preferred aspects of ourselves vastly oversimplifies who we are, what stands in our way, and what it takes to operate at our best." Save Us From Our Strengths (HBR.org Sept. 2012).
It is my expectation that, as your leadership sauce seasons and matures, you will have great success at LeadingInHouse.sm 

This summary was prepared by Perry Cone and posted at LeadingInHouse.com.

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